Editorial: Farewell To David Bowie, A Bar-Raising Artist Who Remains Unrivaled
Oh, man. Not David Bowie.
Music’s wonderfully iconic alien had just turned 69 on Friday (January 8), the same day as the release of what would be the last studio album of his lifetime, Blackstar. But surely he deserved at least another 20 years on this Earth he once fell to.
Of course, so many lyrics from songs on Blackstar make sense, knowing as we do now that Bowie had been struggling with a cancer battle for over a year.
“Something happened on the day he died, spirit rose a metre and stepped aside / Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried,” Bowie sings in the glorious, croon-heavy breakdown on Blackstar‘s title track.
Later, on “Lazarus,” the Thin White Duke opens with, “Look up here, I’m in heaven / I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.”
Album highlight “Dollar Days” contains the cryptic line, “If I’ll never see the English evergreens I’m running to, it’s nothing to me,” before ending with the repeated refrain of “I’m dying to, I’m trying to.”
Finally, the album ends with the soothing synth-and-sax number “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” which finds Bowie noting, “I know something is very wrong, the pulse returns for prodigal sons / The blackout’s hearts with flowered news, with skull designs upon my shoes.”
David Bowie’s death is a loss to the art of music and to the whole of culture, which he impacted so greatly from every angle over the past half a century. If you’ve yet to have that childhood or teenage or adult moment where his music grips you by the heart and takes over your life — whether it be “Space Oddity” or “Changes” or “Ziggy Stardust” or “Rebel Rebel” or “Young Americans” or “Golden Years” or “Heroes” or “Ashes To Ashes” or “Under Pressure” or “Let’s Dance” or “Little Wonder” that creeps under your skin and flips the switch, plugging you in to something electrifying — let it happen. You’ll be a better human being for it. And you’ll also be better adept at pinpointing what really constitutes musical artistry.
For me personally, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household with parents who were disciples of the three greats: The Beatles, Motown and Bowie. My dad’s vinyl collection included, among other of the Duke’s albums, his first hits collection, 1976’s Changesonebowie, which I can say without a doubt, greatly informed the music fan I am today.
When MTV entered our household a year into the fledgling music video network’s infancy, I was an impressionable second grader, and the public-domain heavy montage video for Queen and Bowie’s “Under Pressure” blew my mind — both with, to borrow from the legend himself, its sound and vision.
Rounding David Bowie’s infiltration of my childhood out, his Let’s Dance album was released in 1983, and he famously had his second coming, becoming a pop fixture all over again — albeit after a complete image and, thanks to Nile Rodgers, musical overhaul.
I can’t imagine – nor do I want to — how my fandom and mindscape for popular music would have been shaped without David Bowie’s sophisticated, often gender-bending lyrics, his defining imagery and funky brand of pop/rock/soul being so ever-present in my youth. I had just woken up early yesterday, way before news of his death broke overnight, and took the subway down to the West Village to buy Blackstar on vinyl at, funnily enough, the store Rebel Rebel. (A year ago I was thrilled to find a vinyl copy of my all-time favorite Bowie album, Station To Station, there, as well.) The owner was outside the door, not quite having opened up, but he let me in early just to buy the record.
We throw words like “legend” and “icon” around far to carelessly today, when really the benchmark for both terms just took a final bow. The true definition? Even with what we realize now is this parting gift to listeners of his music — his just-released album — David Bowie, with the vast body of work he created during his lifetime, remained up to the end innovative, unparalleled and forever music’s oddity.
Below: A playlist of just some of David Bowie’s legendary songs.